I Was Wrong…

Carole Levine, Principal

Levine Partners LLP   LevinePartners@comcast.net

How hard can it be to admit that you made a mistake?  Or that what you thought was working, just is not doing the job?  How difficult is it to look critically at what you are doing and determine that something else might be better…or that you really don’t need to do this anymore?

Apparently, for both people and organizations, this is very, very difficult.

But, if we are to move forward, being able to admit that what might have been working at one point in time is just not working now is an essential skill.

This is hard.  We like to believe that our work, whether paid or volunteer, is meaningful and productive.  We want to impact the world and make it better.  And, over time, we develop personal and organizational strategies to carry out our missions.  Some are highly effective.  Some are not.  Some worked well in the beginning…but times have changed.

Most organizations have missions that they will chip away at over time, but probably never completely accomplish.  Missions and visions should always have some “reach” in them, but often what is desired is either completely out of reach, or not truly a viable goal in these changing times.  What about others whose missions are similar (or even the same) as yours?  Is it best, in the nonprofit world, to try to “out-do” and compete with others around similar goals?  Determining if an organization is truly effective and competent in what they do is a difficult task.  When there are 10 coffee shops in a two block radius, does it make sense to open the 11th?  The same is true for nonprofits.  If there are some highly effective organizations doing what your organization struggles to sustain, perhaps it is time to re-think your place on the block.

Admitting that you were wrong, does not necessarily mean that you should shut your doors.  It may mean you need to change.  It may mean that you should carefully assess what you are doing well and look at your mission and goals in the context of the current environment.  You will want to honor your past, but not be locked into it.  Are there still unmet needs?

When the March of Dimes set out to eradicate polio, they dreamed of success over time. When that success was achieved, they were left with a dilemma.  Was their work done?  Did they now take a bow and fade into the sunset?  They chose to re-think their mission and re-invent themselves and their mission.  They are now a leader in the prevention of birth defects…a mission that, unfortunately, may not be “cured” as quickly as polio.  They had a highly effective infrastructure that they were not prepared to disband.  Instead, they chose to re-focus.  It took a brave, strategically thinking organization to make this dramatic change.

Being wrong can be viewed as a positive if it positions you to make change and not repeat or replicate what is not working or what is already being done well by others.  The hardest part of any journey is the first step.  Sometimes that needs to be a step back to truly access your purpose and how to deliver on it.  Sometimes that can be a total reinvention (a la March of Dimes) and sometimes it involves a narrowing of focus to what you do best and to what you are most passionate about.  And sometimes it can mean shutting your doors and supporting the work of others.  All are valid responses to knowing that something is wrong.  The only wrong answer is clinging to what is not working.  Saying “I was wrong” is often what is right.